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Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Something of a conundrum...

An issue cropped up in two separate conversations I had recently. In the first, both I and my fellow interlocutor independently reached the same conclusion on the issue but were both uncertain about the mechanics and the validity of the position. I thought I would share the problem and the tentative solution in the hope some kindly readers would interact with it and share some helpful thoughts. It is very much an honest question with only an attempted answer.

In the reformed view of the ordo salutis, the Spirit regenerates, leading to conversion and justification, and then follows the lifelong work of sanctification which ultimately culminates in our glorification (which can be understood as complete sanctification). Evidently, the work of regeneration which leads to our conversion and justification is a work of the Spirit. Similarly, the ongoing work of sanctification, culminating in our glorification, is also a work of the Spirit.

In Ezekiel 36:24-28, the prophet writes these words:
“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God."
Ezekiel is clear there will come a time when God will give his people new hearts and put his Spirit within them. It seems apparent this had yet to happen at the time of writing and, when it did, this would help God's people to walk in his ways.

Similarly, in John 16:4b-7, Jesus says these words:
"I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you."
Unless Jesus' is making an arbitrary, or untrue distinction, we must conclude the Spirit [Helper] had not yet come and did not yet dwell in the hearts of believers at the time Jesus was with the apostles. It would appear from Acts 2, the indwelling of the Spirit - as per Jesus' words - followed his ascension.

Jesus teaching in John 3 is clear that one must be born of the Spirit in order to see the kingdom of God. Reiterating this teaching, 1 John 3:24 states "Whoever keeps his [Jesus'] commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us." John goes on in 4:13 "By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit."

The problem is thus: if the reformed ordo salutis is correct, how did believers prior to Christ's ascension come to be regenerate and sanctified if the Spirit, at that time, did not dwell in their hearts?

The dispensationlist has a ready answer to the problem; namely, God works differently across the dispensations. Unfortunately, this view is less tenable than the problem presented to the reformed view. It does not account for the universal nature of Jesus' teaching in John 3 nor John's statements in 1 John. Neither does it account for Abraham's credited righteousness, and the salvation of plethora other characters in the OT, which only ever refer to salvation by faith - belief in a future messiah just as NT believers looked back to a historical messiah.

The tentative answer (to which I am not particularly wedded and of which I am not wholly convinced) seems to lie in the nature of repentance. It is possible God moved individuals to repentance in the OT without dwelling in their hearts. Certainly, our current experience of justification and ongoing sanctification is never complete until our ultimate glorification when we reach Heaven. For OT believers, there could have been a process of justification without the ongoing sanctifying work of the Spirit in their lifetime with sanctification coming simultaneously upon their glorification. Just as there are some further along the road to sanctification than others, but none of us ultimately sanctified until glory, OT believers may have begun and ended their process of sanctification in glory whilst still being justified.

Anyway, thoughts would be appreciated.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Middle Knowledge, Free Will and the Reformed Schema

I previously outlined a theodicy which sought to integrate the Molinist conception of Middle Knowledge into a framework of compablist free will that would synchronise with the reformed schema. 

I argued a framework of libertarian free will, as postulated by Molinism, presumes there exist freedom permitting circumstances under which one can ever freely respond to the call of the gospel. Similarly, on this framework, the grounding objection has traction. True libertarian free will, by definition, means God cannot know how an agent would freely act because he has no grounds for knowing. The Molinist argues circumstance as a basis for decision making makes any choice, the circumstances around which had been set by God, a compatiblist notion. As such, an agent's decision making becomes totally arbitrary. Conversely, on a compatablist framework, such objections do not arise. God's middle knowledge is grounded in an agent's nature and their decision making is not arbitrary but flows from the deepest desires of the agent, now rooted in an inherited sin-nature.

However, given that sin is grounded in an agent's deepest desire rooted in their nature, such a view leads us to suggest Adam and Eve must have been made with an inclination to sin before the fall. Therefore, I argued Adam and Eve had libertarian free will prior to the fall but, following Adam's sin, humankind was limited to compatablist free will. This meant that pre-fall Adam and Eve were capable of neutral moral decision making thus initially acted without specific inclination toward sin and without God being the author of sin. Post-fall, humankind lost libertarian free will and inherited a sin nature such that any agent now has an inclination to sin and God merely permits their desire to sin for sufficient reason without being the author of the sin itself. You can view the full argument here.

For issues of space, there were a couple of questions I left unanswered and it seems right to address those now. The two key questions are these: (1) if pre-fall Adam and Eve had libertarian free will, how can God conceive his salvific plan in accordance with the reformed schema; (2) if the grounding objection has traction, is it not special pleading to exclude pre-fall Adam and Eve from its scope?

The first of these objections has a relatively straightforward answer. The concept of Middle Knowledge contends that God's foreknowledge not only extends to what he knows will happen but also what would have happened across an infinite number of possible worlds. If God conceived a possible world in which he foreknew Adam and Eve would fall, it is fairly easy to see how - having used his middle knowledge to conceive of such a world - this would also extend to his salvific plan post-fall. Libertarian free will contends that, given freedom permitting circumstances, an agent can act in any way they choose. Middle Knowledge argues that under such freedom permitting circumstances, although an agent can freely choose to act in any way, God conceived a world in which he knows they will act in a particular way. If we leave aside the grounding objection for a moment, God's salvific plan on a reformed schema still holds if we posit libertarian free will for pre-fall Adam and Eve. God merely conceived of a world, using his middle knowledge, in which Adam and Eve would freely sin, lose their libertarian free will such that God could enact a greater plan of salvation through compatiblist means.

The second question is much more difficult. I am convinced the bigger problem for the Molinist is not the grounding objection but the argument there exist any freedom permitting circumstances under which an agent can freely choose to respond to the gospel call given our inherited sin-nature. Nevertheless, if the grounding objection is valid (and I think it probably is), is it not special pleading to allow Adam and Eve libertarian free will whilst claiming the grounding objection rules out libertarian free will for everybody else? 

It strikes me there are three possible solutions to this problem: 

(1) The most straightforward solution is that there were no possible worlds in which Adam and Eve would not have sinned given free choice. Therefore, God had to conceive a possible world each of which involved Adam and Eve's fall.

(2) The second possible solution is that whilst Adam and Eve had libertarian free will, God nonetheless grounded his middle knowledge in the nature of Adam and Eve. Although their nature was not, at this point, a sin-nature and was therefore not inclined to sin, it is at least possible their neutral moral nature - being unique in human history - was created in such a way that God could ground his middle knowledge.

(3) The third possible solution: God's conception of any possible world begins with the question of whether Adam and Eve obey God or fail to follow the single command he gave them. However long Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden pre-fall and whatever they did prior to their disobedience is really of no moral importance. The only moral question was whether they would obey God or not. As such, there was no reason for God to give Adam and Eve compatablist free will because their every decision was morally neutral except in respect to God's one command. For the reformed schema, this means God had to conceive a world in which he foreknew Adam and Eve would sin without making the circumstances in which they were placed the sole basis of the decision itself. It seems possible, given their freedom to act neutrally entirely apart from God's command, that a world could be conceived in which Adam and Eve would sin of their own free volition given passage of time foreknown by God. In fact, this argument is backed up by God's guarding of the tree of life, the inference being that further passage of time would have likely allowed Adam and Eve to also eat of this tree too. Therefore, God conceived a world in which he foreknew Adam and Eve would sin allowing him to enact a greater plan of salvation that depended on the loss of libertarian free will. 

I am thoroughly unconvinced of solution (1). This solution fails because freedom permitting circumstances insist Adam and Eve could act another way but will act in a particular way. This solution leaves absolutely no room for that. Equally, it does nothing to take us away from the problem that Adam and Eve must therefore have been inclined to sin prior to their inherited sin-nature. 

Nevertheless, I think (2) and (3) may be valid solutions. The central problem with (2), however, is that one cannot take the argument any further. I cannot go any of the way to explaining the inclinations of this neutral moral nature. Whilst it is possible to show the inclinations of a post-fall sin-nature and how this affects action I cannot do the same with this moral nature. Nonetheless, that there is an element that cannot be readily explained does not necessarily make it an invalid solution. One must accept that Adam and Eve had a unique nature in human history and the biblical writers, especially Paul, tend to emphasise inherited sin nature rather than Adam's unique pre-fall nature. It is also possible to argue that in grounding the pre-fall nature this way we effectively posit a compatablist framework pre-fall and are led back to the same initial issue: that Adam and Eve were created with an inclination to sin. Nevertheless, it still seems valid that God could ground his middle knowledge in Adam and Eve's pre-fall nature whilst still granting them libertarian free will.

The central weakness in (3) is that it could be read as God guessing that over the course of time Adam and Eve would probably fall at which point he could enact his real plan. Such a reading leads us to the God of Open Theism - a conception totally rejected by reformed theologians. Nonetheless, it still strikes me as eminently possible that God could conceive a world in which he knew, with clarity, that Adam and Eve would freely sin given passage of time. This is not guess work on God's part but certain knowledge that Adam and Eve's freedom permitting circumstances would lead them to sin thus necessitating a conceived world in which they would fall, libertarian free will would be restricted and the reformed schema of God's salvific purposes are enacted from a plan conceived in eternity past. This third option seems the most compatible with both the reformed schema and the concept of middle knowledge.